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Thursday, August 7, 2008
Charter conversion to save Hawai`i schools
By Patrick Walsh @ 1:27 AM :: 2869 Views

by Patrick M. Walsh

With legislators threatening to close Hilo, Laupahoehoe, Honoka`a, Waimea, and Waikoloa schools, parents and community got together to demonstrate how important their schools are to them. Although the teachers’ union has worked to talk down charter schools in the community, today some parents are working to establish new conversion charter schools.

These folks are pioneers representing a hopeful school community that still believes education is the foundation for a successful future. With nearly all regular DoE High Schools now failing under the terms of No Child Left behind, charter schools continue to uphold high expectations of academic success for both the individual students and the school as a whole.

While many of the schools under consideration for closure suffer declining enrollment, there is an increasing ground swell of support for charter schools in the neighbor islands. Several public charter schools have as many as three students on a waiting list for every available seat. Parents call and visit charter campuses daily hoping to get their children enrolled.

Charter schools are public schools with increasing enrollment but many have not been given the facilities to accommodate the demand. Last year Hawai`i had about 6000 students at 27 charter schools.

While a conversion charter school can offer all former DoE teachers positions in a new charter, they are not obligated to do so. Most charter schools do not use a tenure system. These are the reasons for the teachers’ union opposition. But teacher discipline is handled within the confines of collective bargaining and benefits and seniority are maintained. Teachers and administrators are still state employees represented by their union.

Start up public charter schools in Hawai`i receive no money for facilities but conversion charter schools take control of the DoE facilities of the converted school at virtually no cost.

Conversion charter schools receive funding per student equal to about $7000 per student. This is in line with the funding at many of the threatened schools and higher than some. In addition parents and stakeholders elect their own board of directors who recruits, hires and evaluates the school principal and other campus administrators. They set their own curriculum. Most charter schools work with a supporting non-profit which creates other advantages.

The new school board would be able to accommodate parents, create activities that engage failing students, purchase an existing pre-designed curriculum, expand the music and arts programs, and vocational education. This is why charter schools are so much more successful than traditional DoE schools.

Our kids need better neighborhood schools where discipline is enforced; education is meaningful and connects to their lives. Instead of continuing to tolerate drop out rates as high as 50%, the promise of attainable high school/post-secondary vocational or college preparatory education must become a reality.

Every child has a right to an education, but what do we do to discipline students who impede other students’ pursuit of knowledge and achievement? Disruption and dysfunction are the enemy of achievement for enormous numbers of students. Yet DoE discipline is ineffectual, hamstrung by bureaucratic inertia and political correctness..

School reform does not have to be a distant goal. Charter schools already offer a better education and future. Charter-school parents speak of higher graduation rates, more extracurricular opportunities, caring teachers, and stricter discipline. Most importantly, these parents speak of charter schools with a sense of hope and purpose that no longer exists in most public schools. With DoE now threatening Jr. Varsity Sports after the Legislature’s failed effort to consider closing dozens of East Hawai`i and O`ahu schools, it is time to convert our schools in order to save them.

Patrick Walsh is a reform candidate for Board of Education. Info: www.Walsh4Hawaii.com

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